U.S. Homeland Security hosts civilian response to active shooter events seminar


According to numbers from the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, schools across Mississippi have received 72 threats since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which a gunman killed 17 people and wounded 17 more.

To help prevent similar events, state officials held on Monday a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events seminar at the Petal Performing Arts Center. The seminar is aimed at providing civilians with strategies, guidance and plans for surviving and keeping others safe during an active shooter event.

“I promise you, if you don’t leave here today and see something that you can do differently that will help benefit you as a teacher or an administrator that will save your life, your students’ life or your staff’s life – we need to sit and talk when it’s over,” Chad Callender, school safety administrator at the Mississippi Department of Education, told the crowd of about 25. “(Shooting events) are not normal – this is not what we’re accustomed to in this line of work.

“This is real life, and this is the part that, in our business, we’ve got to start bringing to you as teachers and administrators to be able to see a lot of the things that we see on a daily basis. And it’s not to scare you; it’s simply for you to see what really can happen, and how quick it can happen.”

Jim Brinson, operations director at the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, started the seminar off by showing the crowd a video re-enactment of part of the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. Brinson used that video and others like it to challenge how people think in an emergency situation.

“Most people … see something and say, ‘Well, I would have done this or I would have done that,’” he said. “(But) unless you’ve been in that type of environment, you don’t really know what you’re going to do.

“I’m here to make you understand that this is the world we live in, where people kill people. And a lot of times they do it just because they can, and there’s ways to be able to survive that kind of environment.”

Brinson stressed the importance of what law enforcement officials know as the OODA Loop: Observing the threat; Orienting your body to take action; Deciding what action is best; and Acting during an active shooter situation. The “Acting” part of the OODA Loop can be broken down into three sub-categories: avoiding the threat, denying the threat access to you, and defending yourself.

“First thing is, we’ve got to start changing the way we live our life, and we’re going to have to start having good situational awareness,” Brinson said. “We have to be observant, because you have to observe that threat before that threat’s on top of you.”

As an example of situational awareness, Brinson showed the crowd video footage of the 2003 Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, in which 100 people died after a pyrotechnics malfunction. Brinson said 18 of those people failed to escape even though they were in a room with several windows.

“Nobody broke out the windows to get out of the room – they just kind of all pushed toward the main entrance,” he said. “We contribute a lot of that to: that’s where their brain is telling them to go, because that’s where they came in, and that’s all the brain knew. So we need to start looking at our exits, and understanding the environment that we’re in.

“Think if you’re in Walmart and something bad happens – most people would go to the front. Well, guess where the bad guys are coming from? But how many doors are there in the back of a Walmart? A lot.”

Callender said the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security will continue to travel around the state to further educate school officials on active shooter situations.

“We’re all working in the same arena, but a lot of times we don’t understand each other,” he said. “We’ve got to … put your thoughts and ideas and concerns, and put our thoughts and ideas and concerns on the table and talk it out.

“(We need to) make sure we’re accomplishing your goals and objectives, as well as our goals and objectives, and together, we’re going to have safe schools. But until you understand safety and we understand education … and we all sit at the table together, we’re not going to have the best that we can have for our students and our staff.”